Be a man!

“you can start by being a man!”

It’s a famous movie scene. Johnny Fontaine is sobbing to the Godfather on the day of his daughter’s wedding. He tearfully exclaims “What am I gonna do?” To which the Godfather loudly and angrily yells, “You can start by being a man!”

Be a man! Every boy and a few grown men have heard it. One problem as I see it is that, historically, few have known what that expression means and it would have benefitted them to ask for clarification. The second problem as I see it is that it no longer matters. All masculinity, toxic or otherwise has become marginalized and now sits firmly in the taboo section.

I fear for the boys coming up today. They are fighting so many forces. A historic lack of nuclear families is leaving many boys without a male influence (yes, boys need a father). A thick grey line in gender roles, and gender itself, is confusing our boys. Most importantly, society is condemning traditional male behavior as toxic, aggressive and dangerous.

In fairness, some traditional “male” behaviors should be condemned. For example, when flirtation, a natural instinct, crosses over into the realm of misogyny then it needs to be controlled. Flirting is perfectly natural and it is part of the mating process of all mammals. Catcalling is not flirting, it is insulting and degrading to women and in today’s day and age should be a thing of the past. However, there was a time when a woman could handle a flirt gone bad with a snazzy retort or to simply ignore it. Women are not helpless and any strong woman can easily shoot down a man who gets (verbally) out of line.

“Boys will be boys” is not just a saying or a luxury. All boys need to be boys before they can become men. Boys need to chase windmills to feed their imagination. Boys need to slay dragons to grow confidence. Boys need to fight to learn how a victory and a beating feel. Boys need to do the flirtation dance with girls to teach them how to treat a woman. Boys need to play games with winners and without participation trophies because winning is a thing and it is just as important that they know what losing feels like. Boys need to be boys, but they aren’t allowed to anymore. Masculinity is not toxic. It’s in the DNA.

This is a complex subject that needs to be treated carefully and with dignity. It is something that, if not addressed, we will be cursed with a future filled with men whose pheromones could easily be mistaken for perfume. We need to acknowledge that it is not a bad thing to “be a man”, that to be a man is impossible if the boy is stifled, and that women will someday crave a “real man” only to find that the species as we know it has gone extinct.

It is imperative that, in order to handle this topic in a fair and balanced manner the reader must understand that this is, at the end of the day, my opinion. I will attempt to differentiate good masculinity from “toxic” masculinity and give examples of what a “good” and “real man” is.

Lord knows someone needs to get to the bottom of this issue while there is still time.

Stay tuned. I hope you enjoy.

Fairness

At what point do you go from being fair to being a sucker?

I have always considered myself a fair man. Actually, let me back up a bit. Not always. I can not claim that I have always been the way I am today. In fact, until too late in life I was a very flawed man. But I did change for the better around the time that I took a real hard look at my life and realized that I was trying to be something I was not and it was then that I made some adjustments. As I told my 25 year HS reunion coordinator looking for a quote in the absence of my attendance,
“I spent so much time and effort in the attempt to find myself only to one day realize that I was me all along.”
As I took stock of my life, one thing I vowed to do was always take a moment to consider the perspective of others before making snap judgments and to always be a fair man. It’s worked for me professionally and in my personal life, in particular in my marriage. Lately, I have begun to think that in my marriage, I have evolved from fair to being a sucker.

Two years ago, when my wife and I finally decided to divorce we sat down and discussed the terms. We were already maintaining separate residences, not even close to being a couple, and I was sick and unemployed. She told me that she wasn’t going to pursue support but asked that in the event that my SSDI application was approved would I give her some of it? I agreed, even though my SSDI application was never guaranteed. I am not the type to leave her hanging because she wasn’t doing much better financially than I.

Fast forward 20 months. I was living with mom and also living off of her. I had no income. My health had further deteriorated and I had been denied SSDI and I was pending a hearing. Additionally, I had just come out of a extended hospital stay that almost ended with my leaving in a bag.

When I came home from the hospital the first thing I did was open my mail. There was good news and bad. The bad news was that my health insurance had been cancelled. Enter the other piece of mail. I had been approved for Disability, to the tune of a 32k back settlement, which was the reason for them cancelling my insurance (apparently I was a rich man at 2100/mo).

Unbeknownst to me, my ex had also received a copy of my approval letter.

She called me the next morning looking for a check. I had already decided that I would honor my word and give her half. But before I could be nice, dare I say magnanimous, she demanded her half and proceeded to tell me how she would not even settle for less than a stipend of 800/mo. I was floored. All of the wind was drained from my sails. I told her so and hung up. A matter of hours passed and I wrote a check for 15,700 and mailed it. I then paid my mother back everything I had borrowed in the past 18 months. I then paid off my credit cards and I had 3k left and I needed tires for my truck. That was 800.

On the next conversation I had with ex-wifey I cautiously told her that there would be a time, in the near future, where we would need to discuss the arrangement. I was paying support for 2 minors despite one of them being almost 20 and the other turning 18 in 3 months. I called it child support and if you’re paying attention that means that I don’t have to do one and I am close to not being required to the other. I’m fair and I have honor. But the time to revisit the arrangement is right now. I have given her over 24k in the last 12 months as I suffer financially.

The catalyst for this conversation occurred last week she called and told me that her boyfriend was going to move in with her. It was part of a giant brouhaha. My youngest daughter, who lives with her completely objected and was beside herself upset. My oldest daughter was in her corner and fighting with her mother. Ex wifey didn’t care that my daughter was upset, she did her usual “I’ll ask for approval and then do whatever the fuck I want to anyway” move. She wanted my approval. I didn’t give it to her. I was never a fan of her new guy, a convicted felon and a very recent user of drugs after failing rehab. Him living with 2 of my kids infuriated me. At am impasse, the conversation ended quickly.

Then it hit me. A guy with no job, no money, a drug problem and a record was going to live with her partially on my dime? No, I say no fucking way. I briefly thought about cutting her off but I do have an obligation to pay her for my youngest for a while. I needed to do something, but what is fair?

I decided that I would cut it in half. The oldest boy is working and makes decent money. He buys his own food so she can’t claim she’s supporting him. The other half is going to be deposited in my youngest daughter’s bank account, which I just set up, where ex-wifey can’t touch it. I then called my ex and told her what I was doing and that her able bodied boyfriend will have to pick up the slack. I told her that any self-respecting person, whether they rent a room or stay at a house, pays rent. Jesus H Tap-dancing Christ, her mother is paying her rent in full!

The best part, my kids suggested that I do this.

Boy, was she pissed! How could I, after all?

My response? For once, I am doing what is fair to me.

my best work

There’s an old joke that goes like this:
Q: What do a Hooker and a Bowler have in common?
A: They both do their best work in an alley.

Me? I do mine in a supermarket.

I have found so many opportunities in my life to do small but meaningful things to help others while engaging in the mundane act of food shopping. My superpower has always been the ability to notice small details and I have proven especially adept at picking out opportunities for small, random acts of humanness at the market. I don’t call it kindness because I believe that it is our duty and it is what makes us human.

Often, it is merely the observation of a small, elderly person or a vertically challenged young one that needs help lifting something or reaching an item on the top shelf. It happens frequently, the markets pile things so high these days. I see, as bright as day, a person in need of assistance and I am truly amazed at how many people DON’T and instead walk right by. Today, it happened to me twice so I felt compelled to blog about it.

I went to see my son today in MA. I was early so I stopped at the local market to grab him some supplies for his apartment. I was in the pet food aisle and a elderly man was trying to put a 24 lb bag of cat food into his carriage. I could see him struggling with it and I quickly went over and did it for him. He was very appreciative. I said,

“It’s nothing. Have a nice day.” As opportunities sometimes arrive, I was parked next to him and we left at the same time. I grabbed the same bag of cat food and put it in his trunk for him.

After helping my son I headed home and on the way stopped at a different market. As soon as I reached aisle 3 there was a vertically challenged woman staring at a box of rice pilaf. The shelf was partially empty and it was a good reach, even for me to get to it. I asked her,
“How many do you want?”
“Excuse me?”
“How many boxes of that Pilaf?”
“Oh, 3 please. Thank you.”
“Not a big deal, have a nice day.” It really wasn’t a big deal after all. It is my duty, my obligation, my pleasure.

About 3 months ago my youngest boy was up visiting me and we went to the local market. After grabbing a few items we jumped into the 14 items or less checkout lane. As soon as I got in line I knew that we made a mistake. There was some kind of holdup with the person in front of me. My son pointed out that other lanes were moving but I didn’t move. I had a feeling I knew what was going on. The person didn’t have enough money and the cashier was voiding out items. I knew what I was going to do. As she voided her last item I noticed that the cashier had piled the items behind her at the register. The woman had just gotten her receipt and was about to walk out and I asked her to hold on a moment.
“Would you please add those items to my order, bag them separately so that she can have them?”
The cashier smiled and immediately rang them up. The woman vehemently objected. I told her,
“It’s done. Don’t worry about it.”
She thanked me profusely, I waved to her and told her to have a nice night. I caught my son’s eye.
“Nice move, Dad.” As we walked out I told him,
“It’s nothing she wouldn’t have done for me.”
“Not really Dad, not everyone does stuff like that. You don’t even know if she has money. Maybe her card was bad and she’s rich.”
“It doesn’t matter kid, what matters is that at that moment she needed help. Remember the homeless guy at Walmart?”
He did. When he was very young we got caught at the begging section of our local Walmart. If you miss the light, the homeless with signs walk up to your car and ask for money. I gave a guy two dollars. My son asked me if it was a good idea. After all, he might be an impersonator (it was known to happen).I told him,
“Maybe he is. But he may also need that money. I may never know but it only cost me 2 dollars either way.”
I know he retained it, hence the attaboy.

I’m not looking for a cookie here, I’m hopeful that someone will be inspired to keep their eyes open for an opportunity to help someone. It doesn’t take a lot; buy a homeless guy a McMuffin and a hot coffee on a cold day, reach for something off of the top shelf, help carrying groceries, let someone go before you in line, just say hi to someone who looks like they need it. It’s so damn easy and could make someone’s day.

If you live your life like your funeral is tomorrow, have the goal of someone reflecting on your life and thinking “Now that was a nice person.” You may have been a Captain of Industry, a CEO or a Nobel Prize winner. But were you a good and nice person? To me, that is the nicest thing someone can say about you.

the words left unsaid

I love my dialysis nurses. I think they do God’s work and I appreciate them. They do more than stick needles in my arm, they monitor my welfare and genuinely care about me and make a very difficult transition for their patients easier. Of course, I can only speak for myself but the nurses have a special place in my heart.

One nurse I am particularly fond of is Jesse. Jesse is one of the youngest nurses at the clinic and I have felt a special chemistry with her since the day I met her. We share a devilish sense of humor which is tampered by her strict codes of conduct in the clinic regarding patient interaction. Still, we manage to have flirty and somewhat sexy conversations in sneaky ways, even the exchange of glances or funny faces. I love it when she’s there, it makes the time pass a little better. It’s safe to say that if there wasn’t a clinic policy against dating patients, we would be a couple. Just one more example of how my life is.

C’est La vie.

I have gotten to know her over the last year and she tells me a bit about her personal life. I know she doesn’t share with many patients, we have a special connection. I know that she has 2 very cute daughters, aged 5 and 3. I know that their father used to live with them and watch the girls while Jesse was at work. I know that he recently moved out and she is single (not that I can do anything with that knowledge). I also know that Jesse hasn’t spoken to her father in years. She has revealed enough for me to know that her relationship with her dad was less than stellar. Let’s call it what it is, she hated him.

Last Tuesday Jesse was in a terrible mood. She was quiet and frequently teared up. She wasn’t speaking to anyone with the exception of the communication necessary to get someone set up on the dialysis machine. It bothered me a bit to not have our usual back and forth but it had nothing to do with me and I figured whatever it is will work out and she will be in a better mood next time. Unfortunately, the next time I saw her she was no better.

I decided to engage her. I remarked to her that she was in a bad mood again. She then came over and said “I’ll tell you, but you’re one of two people I’m telling. I haven’t told anyone else. She paused and said, “My father was killed in an accident last week.”

I was stunned. Of course I had no words to offer. I offered her a hug and half-joked that maybe I can give her some of my strength. She teared up. She wasn’t working that day so she soon left. I had several hours left and most of them were spent thinking of her.

She had a difficult road ahead. She has lost her father. In addition she had the burden of knowing that they had a terrible relationship. On top of it all, I know that she had to be torn by those words. You know those words…the ones unsaid. I’m sure there are regrets. I’m sure there are unresolved issues. I’m sure that she was right in how she felt about him but never had the one thing we all crave in the end. Closure. She has a long road ahead of her and there is nothing that I can do that will help her reach closure. I wish I could in the worst way.

See, she’s not the only one with unresolved issues and things unsaid. I wanted to tell her how I feel about her. That I have been pining for her for a very long time. Hopeful that there is a way around the clinic’s policy against patients fraternizing/dating staff. I wish she knew that I would ask her out in a New York minute if I could. I want to be with her so very badly. And I can’t until I am no longer a patient of the clinic or if she leaves the company. Neither seems viable right now, I need a transplant, it’s the only answer. Until that unlikely event, it’s just not going to happen.

I went to a local fair today and it wasn’t 5 minutes before I ran into her. She met my daughter and my friend Eric. It felt naughty to be talking to her because it was forbidden on so many levels. But we talked for a few minutes and it was really nice. Not to mention that she looked beautiful in the early afternoon sunshine. As we parted ways, I hugged Jesse and bluntly said “We need to find a way around that company policy because I want to be with you.” I amazed myself at how bold that statement was. But I felt better for saying it. They were no longer words unsaid. I said them. It was the truth after all and now it was out there. I think she knows that I’m into her, now it’s confirmed.

When we parted ways and walked away my daughter, who already knew my feelings for Jesse said, with her usual candor, “ You need to marry her. She’s beautiful, she’s awesome and she’s into you.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah.”
“Well, a lot has to happen before that happens.” I said. “But I think she is worth waiting for.”

A year has passed…conclusion

October 4, 2018
I woke up to a team of Doctors standing at the foot of my bed. It was early. or at least it seemed like it was. I hadn’t slept much the night before. The head doctor began listening to my lungs, feeling my legs, being a general nuisance as the rest of the white smocks scribbled frantically on their notepads.
“You won’t remember me, sir but I’m the doctor that was on duty the night you came in.” He was looking me dead in the eye. “I’m having a hard time believing that I’m looking at you right now. You were that close.”
“That’s what I keep hearing.”I said. “I must have been in bad shape.”
“Bad shape doesn’t begin to cover it. You were on the edge of death. How do you feel now?”
“Grateful.”
“You’ve been given a second chance . Take advantage of it. You may be going home in a couple of days if you feel up to it. You need to walk for me before I sign your release.”

I rolled out of bed, with difficulty of course, struggled to my feet and began to slowly walk out the door. The team followed me out and watched as I walked to the nurses station and back. I was wobbly but I did it.
The doctor asked me when I had mastered that, to his knowledge I had failed the day before.
“Last night while everyone was sleeping.” It was then that I noticed Olivia had joined the group.
“Bill is a determined one” Olivia offered. I smiled at her. The team left my room.
“I want to go home.” I told her.
“A couple more days I think. Your fever is still erratic.”
“I can’t take being in bed anymore.”
Her concession was to sit me up in a chair where I spent almost the entire next two days. I continued to try to put the pieces together.

It was my ex wife that filled in the holes for me. She painted a vivid picture for me of what it was like to see me like that. She had visited me every day, I was impressed. At one point or another all of the kids had come to visit me. Unfortunately they all came when I was sedated. The sight of me with a breathing tube, unconscious was a bit much for my youngest daughter. My oldest son, who was on his way to visit his girl friend, was told to turn around. He asked why he couldn’t come in the morning. He was told “Because your father might not make the night.” Of course he rushed there.

October 6, 2018
I was released in the morning. Mom came to pick me up. When I got home I sat on the deck, enjoying some natural sunlight for the first time in 11 days, and opened my mail. The first letter I opened was from Medicare. My health Insurance had been cancelled. Effective that day. Turns out my SSDI had gotten approved and I was now fucking rich and wasn’t eligible for state assistance anymore. I tore it up and went inside.

I had just fallen asleep in my recliner only to be woken by my mother’s best friend Arlene.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again, Billy. Welcome home you tough bastard.”
“Was I really that bad?!” I asked. It seemed I was asking that to a lot of people. Her face said it all.
Many more townsfolk would say that very thing to me in the ensuing days. They all thought I was going to die.

There are lot of takeaways from this whole incident. I was grateful and impressed with the Hospital. I was thankful for the support of family and friends. I awoke one morning in the dialysis room only to find one of my 3AM buddies Jeff next to me patiently waiting for me to wake up. He had been there for 45 minutes watching me sleep. Now that’s a friend. Later that night two more great friends and their wives visited me. They sat for hours with me, they walked the halls with me, supporting my weight when I wavered. Of course I’m haunted by the way they were looking at me. The words “Dead Man Walking” came to mind. They were scared and it was disconcerting. But overall I am moved and eternally grateful to them for the visit. It really meant the world to me.

Another takeaway is that I am proud to have been gifted with toughness and a survival instinct. In order to survive, one must have a reason. I must have had plenty of reasons to defy the odds, as I was told so many times that I did just that.

I’m a fighter. I’m stubborn and I never quit. This incident is just more evidence that it wasn’t my time. I’m not ready for a dirt nap. My life is compromised but it is not over. I have weddings to go to and Daughters to give away. I have grandchildren to meet and motorcycle rides with my boys. I believe that in my lifetime there may be a cure down the road for me. I want to be there if it does.

My last takeaway? Even if I wasn’t awake, my ability to fight death is there and it is stron. Even unconscious, I do not fear dying.

I fear not living. And that is a powerful thing.

I’m also grateful to be here to tell this story, and that is also a powerful thing.

A year has passed…cont’d

September 28, 2018.
I awoke in a trauma center room full of beeping machines, staring and inquisitive medical staff, lots of plastic curtains and my ex-wife, oldest daughter and my mother.

You can catch up here.

“Where are the 2 fat firefighters?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s fine” she said. She then began to laugh, if you could call it that. A nervous laugh of relief if anything. My wife had buried her face in her hands.

Very confused and in a bit of a haze, I asked why they reacted as they did. As it turns out, the Dr. had just cautioned them that when I awoke there was a distinct possibility that I could suffer some type of cognitive loss. My first words after being medically sedated for 2 days being a joke, they were convinced that I was ok.

But of course I wasn’t.

It took me a while to piece together the events of the previous 3 days. I had no recollection of them so I had to rely on accounts from my mother and my medical team. Both were being light on details and, even in my foggy state I knew that it wasn’t good. Initially, all I was able to learn was that I was rushed to a local hospital that was ill-equipped to treat me and sent me away after dousing me in ice to lower my fever. Which, by the way, was measured at 104.9, a fever that a man my age rarely survives. I was then taken 65 miles away to a hospital with a Trauma center and immediately heavily sedated as they worked to control the septic infection ravaging my body. I was sedated for 2 full days. At one point my mother was asked if I had a Medical Proxy and a Advanced Directive, AKA a DNR (Do not resuscitate.

My Dr. confirmed and explained Sepsis to me and the reasons for Sedating me for 2 days. Apparently I was extremely fitful as I was being treated and I kept tearing the breathing tube out (that was the first time I realized I had had a breathing tube). He was very focused on my treatment regimen going forward. My mother was light on details, she was very upset by the ordeal. It wasn’t until I spoke to the Night Nurse, a real good guy that worked every night that I was in ICU. I explained to him my need for info and my confusion about what had happened to me. He took off his glasses and sat down next to me.
“A guy doesn’t get any closer to the other side than you did. We’re all amazed at your recovery. We thought we lost you.”
“Really?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, if I wasn’t a religious man before I would be now.” He paused. “It was that close.”
I could do nothing but stare at the white ceiling.
“And you’re not out of the woods yet.”

What followed was a full week of restricted bed rest. I was severely limited in how much I could move because I had a temporary dialysis port put in my hip that was in danger of rupturing causing me to bleed out. For 4 long days they ran every antibiotic known to mankind through me until my fever stopped spiking. By Sunday I was able to be moved to a regular room.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The infection wasn’t done yet. I had several relapses plagued by sweating spells and rampant chills in no particular order. I wasn’t able to eat much. I was still forced to stay prone in bed, it would be 2 days before I could even sit up. I was in a private room but there was nothing private about it, nurses and teams of doctors were in there constantly monitoring my every function. My only reprieves, as it were, were my dialysis sessions upstairs.

Eventually I did stabilize, much of it was a blur. I did have plenty of time to get to know the nurses as I recovered. In addition to their youth and attractiveness they were very friendly and good at their jobs. I struck a rapport with a few, one in particular couldn’t get enough of my jokes and my story. She came in every time she had a minute and asked me more questions about my Chronic illness journey. Her name was Olivia.

On day 9 Olivia came in with the physical therapy team. They were tasked with getting me to walk. I had been bed-ridden for 8 days and it was amazing how atrophied my muscles were. 3 nurses got me to the hallway with the goal of walking to the end and back. I was only able to support myself for 3 steps and I collapsed. I would try 2 more times that day and I fared only slightly better then. I was returned to bed. Olivia told me that they wouldn’t consider letting me leave, fever vanquished or not, until I could walk.

By the end of that night I was able to walk the hallway end to end twice before collapsing into bed again.

to be continued

A year has passed…

Sunday, September 23, 2018.
I awoke at about 9:30 PM. My chest hurt. I carefully felt the taped area around the plastic port in my chest. It was tender to the touch. I went to the bathroom mirror and pulled down my shirt to look at it. What appeared to be a pimple next to my port caught my eye. I squeezed and popped it. Immediately, I was overcome by the most powerful chills I had ever experienced. I began to shiver to the point of quivering. My teeth were clacking. It was miserable. I went downstairs to my recliner and threw the biggest blanket I could find over myself. The trembling was uncontrollable. Finally, I warmed up enough for the chills to stop. I braved the trip back upstairs and I curled up under the blankets, freezing again. After 10 or 15 minutes I managed to make it stop and remained in that position until morning.

Monday, September 24, 2018.
I spent most of the day under a blanket but I managed to get downstairs and eat something. I felt awful. Mom was concerned but knew that if I needed help I would tell her.

That evening I was worse. I was curled up on the spare bedroom bed in the fetal position under 3 blankets when Mom came in and asked if I felt well enough for her to go out for a few hours.
Take me to the hospital! raced through my brain. Stupidly I instead said,
“Go ahead, I’m fine.”
At some point I made my way upstairs. I was feeling worse. The tremors were nearly uncontrollable. I crawled into bed. I vaguely remember soiling myself but I didn’t get up. The thought of getting out from under the blankets, my only salvation, was unbearable.
Call 911, you’re going to die! my brain screamed at me.
I don’t want to move, I can’t. If I die I die, a voice answered back. It’s over.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
“Bill, wake up! You’re going to be late for dialysis!” I heard my mothers voice faintly. It took me a moment to realize she was at the base of the stairs. I looked around, I was on the bathroom floor. I forced myself to my feet and then immediately collapsed. At the sound of my crashing to the floor she raced upstairs. Mom assisted me to the bed, all the while asking me if I was ok, if I was able to get up and get ready. I answered her by falling forward and landing again on the floor. The next thing I remember was being hoisted off of the floor of my bedroom by two heavy firefighters. They needed my help to get me onto the stretcher. I had nothing to offer. They picked me up, placed me onto the stretcher. My arms flopped lifelessly from both sides of the stretcher as they struggled to get me down the narrow stairs from my loft.

I was brought to a waiting ambulance. I vaguely remember the chirp of the band radio in the ambulance, being asked a bunch of questions, having my soiled clothes cut off of me, the bumps of the ambulance banging around the bumpy side roads, some commotion as I was treated and begging for a blanket. I was cold. So very, very cold…

To be continued…